As we begin writing this, there are seven days left until we leave for the Moab Easter Jeep Safari, and our project truck Jinxy is having a few top-end engine problems (due to our being cheap a couple of years ago), and it looks as if there is no way Jinxy's up for the 1,000-mile road trip out to Utah. But as a representative of your favorite 4x4 magazine, we certainly can't stay home, so a new and quick (really quick) project is in order. Cash is slim around the 4-Wheel & Off-Road stables, but we really need to get to Moab, and whatever we get, it has to be trailready. After all, who wants to go all the way to Moab and not do some wheelin'? What's more is that we realized some time ago that thinking our '68 Firebird was a good daily driver was sort of a pipe dream for the more than 100-mile commute every day, so we needed a good commuter vehicle too. What the hell do we do? Put the Firebird up for sale, and borrow the money off good ol' Pop 'til the 'Bird sells. What better place to get a loan than from family, right?
We figure we'll take our own advice from our Unibody XJ Jeep story (Mar. '03) and try to find a cheap, good-condition Cherokee and scramble to get parts for a one-week buildup. We don't have the Cherokee yet, but if we want the parts here in time, it's crucial to put down this keyboard and start dialing the order lines.
All right, we've got a $5,000 loan from you-know-who, so that's our budget. Let's recap: We've got no ride, but we do have five grand, and we've got less than a week until Moab to buy the vehicle and make it trailready. No problem (yeah, right)! We already maxed out the credit card yesterday getting a multitude of parts, so a lot of our loan will be going to pay back the card. So far, we've purchased a 411/42-inch Rockkrawler Suspension system, some Pro Comp X-Terrain tires, and a beefy bumper from Truckfarm. We're down to just under $2,500.
We still haven't found a Cherokee yet, Moab is six days away, and 4-Wheel & Off-Road Editor Rick Pw is looking a little crooked-eyed at us. He liked the idea of a one-week buy and buildup, but he was losing faith quickly. "You know we leave for Moab next weekend, right?" Right. Gotta dig deeper into those classifieds.
Found one! A '93 Cherokee; strip-down model, but with four-wheel drive, a 4.0L engine, and air conditioning. Better yet, it has a salvage title (from being stolen, not crashed), which brings the price down even more. After a little bit of quick wheelin' and dealin', we walked away with a good-running Cherokee for just under $1,600. And though this may be a fair price for an '80s Cherokee, it was a steal for a '93. The '93 Cherokees were not yet ODB II controlled, no longer had central axle disconnect axles, and don't have any of the wiring problems of the pre-'90 Cherokees. What a score! And lucky for us too: we're not sure how much longer we'd still be working here if we didn't make this deal happen. We also ordered two last items: a Tuffy security console (we'll explain why later) and a fixed yoke kit from Currie Enterprises for the transfer case. Now we just have to wait for the parts to show up. All of the parts manufacturers know our dilemma, and hopefully the pieces will show up in time. This is the part that gives us ulcers: waiting and relying upon our faithful mail couriers.
Our Rockkrawler suspension system arrived this afternoon while we were at 4Wheel Parts Wholesalers picking up our Pro Comp X-Terrains mounted on Pro Comp 15x8 wheels. We got a 33-inch-tall tire knowing that we would be doing some fender cutting to make them fit. The biggest tire you can put on an XJ with a 411/42-inch lift is a 32x11.50, but with moderate fender trimming, you can get the 33-incher on.
Since our tools are 250 miles away right now (don't ask), we're gonna call in a favor and bum a little rack time off our buddy Frank Gilliland at South Bay Truck & 4x4. He has a good selection of tools, and since we're on a tight time frame, having a rack and power tools will make this job go twice as fast. Besides, we want to get some good pictures without having to lie on our backs.
Suspension We started with the rear, first removing the sway bar and old U-bolts, then supporting the axle. We threw the sway bar away, took off our original leaves, and pulled the original brake line. We replaced the rear leaves with the new Rockkrawler leaf springs and reused the old U-bolts. A braided stainless steel brake line was put in place of the old rubber line and it was time to move to the front.
In the front, we supported the axle, loosened all the control-arm bolts, and pulled off the sway-bar links. We also clamped off and cut the brake lines since we were putting on new ones anyway. Unless you're Superman, or Super Dave [Kennedy], you're gonna have to completely unattach the axle from the control arms to get the new coils in place. So after pulling the coils and replacing them with Rockkrawler units, we raised the axle back up to the point we could get the new Rockkrawler control arms bolted back onto the axle.
With the new control arms on and coils in, we moved on to replacing the brake lines, adding the sway-bar disconnects, and putting on the front and rear shocks. Everything seemed to be together. We'll check it for loose bolts on the road somewhere around Vegas.
Driveline Like we stated earlier, we'd like to get some gears and a locker, but it just isn't in the budget. What we did need though is a slip-yoke eliminator kit like the one from Currie Enterprises. It's not totally necessary for our trip, but we want to be able to pull out the rear driveshaft without the transfer-case yoke falling out if we broke a U-joint. This also means we need a new rear driveshaft made.
We just pulled the rear tailhousing off of the transfer case and checked the guts for signs of wear. You can see in the photo above the normal output shaft next to the smaller shaft with a threaded end for the flange. Everything looks good so we installed the new output shaft and coupler, and will tighten this pile together to get a measurement for the new driveshaft. Luckily Frank just told us he has a friend down the street at Drive Line Service who can get us a driveshaft in half a day. We want to get a CV joint on the driveshaft, but that will run us an extra $100 that we don't have, so we'll make due with a normal 'shaft.
Tires & Fender Trimming The driveshaft was just delivered in record time. We bolted it in, lowered the vehicle, and mounted the Pro Comp tires and wheels. They look great, but the 33s are definitely going to rub if we don't cut the fenders. So we'll start cutting. It's getting a bit ugly, but function over form, right?
Maintenance It's getting late now, and you can tell that Day 5 was a big day for us. We got the lift on, did a little fender trimming, installed the fixed flange and new driveshaft, and got the tires on. But since we're already here at South Bay Truck & 4x4, we thought we should have the vehicle checked over and do a little general maintenance. So we got the oil changed (black as night), ran down to Pep Boys for a rearview mirror, and had the rotors turned because of a little warpage from the previous owner.
The Truckfarm bumper arrived late last night, so we got up early this morning to get that sucker on. Our bumper's cost was $495, and it comes with mounting spots for a winch and two lights-accessories that are out of the budget at the moment, but it's nice to have spots for later down the road. The bumpers come unpainted, so we rattle-canned it with some leftovers we found in the trash. Talk about beef. We were more worried about the sheetmetal of the unibody ripping than hurting this bumper. And now we can bump on the trail, a longtime favorite hobby of guys on the trail. Bumping your buddy in front of you is just like saying "Hey, I care."
This bumper requires no drilling and only takes eight bolts to put on. Long reinforcement plates extend back along the rail of the unibody to distribute any load over a larger area. This gives the bumper far greater strength than any stock unit could possibly have.
Safety Console We leave for Moab tomorrow and the Tuffy center console just arrived in the mail this morning. Since our XJ was an extreme strip-down model, it didn't even have a console. What's more, since our Cherokee was a theft-recovery, one lock and the ignition had been changed to two different keys, and we don't even have the original key so it was impossible to lock our 5KXJ. The Tuffy center console was a necessity for safety. It features 16-gauge steel with a textured powdercoat to keep our wallets, CDs, and other stuff safe. It also has a really nice cushion covered in marine vinyl that doesn't collapse after hour-long rides. Three drilled holes in the center floor of our XJ and three bolts later, we had it in.
We're ready to go, right after we "borrow" a friend's amp and sub box and do a midnight install before we leave tomorrow morning.
Moab Mods & Impressions
So how did the 5KXJ work in Moab? Excellently! We had picked a great vehicle to start out with that was very capable on the terrain of Moab. Our longer wheelbase helped us navigate obstacles like Tipover Challenge more easily than Wranglers with lockers. We wished we had been locked up, but there was just not room in the budget for any type of locking device. Lower gears would have been nice too, but again, not in the budget of $5,000.
The hack-job fender trimming we did was ample for almost every area except one-a little area that we happened to pass through all week, so we broke out some waterpump pliers and modified the fenders a little more. No biggy-after all, this wasn't a beauty contest.
We broke in the suspension very quickly and without mercy, and it worked beautifully. The Rockkrawler joints on the control arms allowed us to twist up the XJ much better than the stock control arms would allow.
The slip-yoke eliminator from Currie was a nice addition to our 5KXJ and ensured that we would not pull out the old slip yoke and screw ourselves on the trail.
We were a little worried about how far out the Truckfarm bumper stuck on the front of our 5KXJ, but we did not touch it even once in Moab
Overall, we were very happy with the way the 5KXJ worked in Moab, and there were only three instances the entire week that we really needed lockers. But we accomplished our mission: we made a sweet trailready vehicle in just under a week, drove it out to Moab, wheeled it all of Easter Jeep Safari in Moab, and drove the 800 hassle-free miles back to California. All for under $5,000.
Sum of Costs
Please keep in mind that the following numbers are roundabout retail prices that can fluctuate with the day. No price is guaranteed and they could go either way. Maybe you'll get your stuff cheaper than we did. There is no tax included on anything because it was all mail-order or done as "labor" pricing. We're not admitting we fudged the lines a little bit for the couple of things done in California, but hey, we know you've got a spare twenty somewhere to cover your tax.
|Pro Comp Tire & Wheel pkg.||1,151|
|Currie slip-yoke eliminator kit |
(after core refund)
|Drive Line Service driveshaft |
(without CV joint)
|Tuffy Security console||214|
|Turn the rotors||15|